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Sonia O’Sullivan: Teeing off on the golf course to appreciate exactly how other sports operate

I always thought it would be fun thing for Olympic athletes to try out other sports

Bless me golfers for it’s been six years since the first and last time I stepped up to tee off.

That was on a course somewhere in Melbourne, and I just about managed to get around nine holes of golf in the time that most experienced golfers would have completed 18 holes, and likely be already back in the clubhouse having a drink too.

Since then Ireland has been represented on the Olympic stage by some of our best golfers, first in Rio 2016, and then at the Tokyo Games, Rory McIlroy placing closest to the medals with his tie for fourth place in Tokyo just over a year ago.

This week I’ve been thinking about golf and the Olympics coming together in another way, and once more for Ireland, when next Thursday at The K Club, the Olympic Federation of Ireland (OFI) hosts the inaugural golf tournament for the Make a Difference athletes fund.


This is a new pot of funding that will be distributed directly back to athletes through a series of grants that they can apply for.

The plan is to bring together Olympians across a variety of sports, athletics, boxing, cycling, sailing, swimming, with Michael Carruth and Annalise Murphy among those also signed up.

It’s open to anyone who is willing to step out of the comfort zone of their own sport and into the world of golf, where many sportspeople have already successfully migrated after retiring from their preferred endeavours.

There are other athletes who don’t crossover so well, but are up for the challenge. I count myself in that category, always up for a challenge, up for a fun day out, and hopefully to learn something in the process.

I always thought it would be a fun thing for Olympic athletes to cross over and try out other Olympic sports. It’s the only real way to get a proper feel for what it takes to be an Olympic rower, boxer, sailor, cyclist, gymnast, swimmer or diver, if only for one day.

It can all look so easy when sitting back watching on television. When you train at such a high level, your sport comes naturally. Even when you return after retirement you may not go so fast or so far but the ease with which you take part never goes away. Like riding a bicycle, the muscle memory and mental capacity to spin the pedals and hold your balance never goes away.

I was reminded of this recently in the gym at Fota Island. I was on a little break from running so looking for something to jazz up the gym routine.

The gym there has a circuit on the board for September and I decided to give it a go. It’s a combination of aerobic and strength work, using the rowing machine to get the heart rate up, 200 metres of rowing, followed by lunges, chest press, squats and mountain climbers.

The challenge was four sets, the clock running the whole time, and I came in around 13 minutes – but a really tough 13 minutes and all because of the continuous effort and the heart rate rising every set.

The bar was set for my return visits, tagging the circuit on each time before I finished up. It’s always a good feeling to finish up outside the comfort zone even with the imminent fear and dread as you press start knowing what lies ahead.

Given 200m is just one tenth of the standard Olympic rowing race of 2,000m, it also makes you think just how tough that event is, and realise how every Olympic sport has its different challenges if you had the chance to give them all a go.

Like apples and oranges, it’s difficult to compare sports when you are successful in one sport and then try out another. Different, muscles and skills required to master each sport, but it would be a more realistic and contextual challenge for athletes than say the extremes of the Ultimate Hell Week on RTÉ, the programme on our screens each Wednesday night.

The challenge here is to go through the special forces training and see how far one can push the mind and body, to try overcome fears and vulnerabilities.

Returning to the golf course isn’t quite as daunting. After accepting the challenge, I will head for a lesson later this week, and hopefully ignite some practical and physical capabilities with visualisations of breaking down each golf hole, and contributing something to whichever team I am assigned.

The good thing for me is that it’s a land-based sport, and worst-case scenario it will be a nice walk around a lovely golf course, chasing a little white ball, mixing it with Olympians and golfers of all abilities, all stepping up to outshine those of us trying to scrape by and not totally embarrass ourselves.

There’s also a scramble on for some golf shoes and clubs to tie in with the lesson. Truth is I enjoyed golf that last time, as I walked around, just not enough to find a regular free four hours in my day. When you come from the time-efficient sport of running, every other sport is weighed up with available time, equipment and ability.

I’ve got the cycling down to a manageable level, with a few bikes scattered around the globe. There’s nothing quite like lacing up the shoes and running out the door wherever you are in the World, but sometimes you need to mix things up a bit and find the endorphins fix on the bike or in the pool or gym.

I’ve tried open water swimming and even through the cold water, it is a challenge and another Olympic sport where I have found some level of ability and enjoyment.

The latest obsession for me is the stand-up paddle boarding, using an inflatable board in the back of the car, which takes just 10 minutes to inflate the board, perfect as a warm-up too.

It’s not quite an Olympic sport, but the perfect escape on some calm water, and challenging in a different way, finding the balance and strength to glide along the water and see things from a different perspective.